By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
ANDOVER TOWNSHIP —
The Maplewood boys basketball team has moved easily through its Northeastern Athletic Conference schedule to this point.
Pymatuning Valley was the latest victim with a 68-42 loss Friday night at PV.
The Lakers had trouble taking care of the basketball while also not shooting it well.
“We just couldn’t put the ball into the hoop tonight,” PV coach Ryan Shontz said. “There’s no doubting that Maplewood is a very good team this year and you need to play your best. We tried to stay with them and I think we did fairly well most of the night. We may have been playing a bit faster than our skills are ready for, though, and that led to a lot of mistakes.
“They did a great job defensively. We were missing our shots early, they were able to break out from us, and we didn’t have much success in getting back once we fell way behind. It’s fairly simple how it works when that happens.”
The Rockets (9-3, 7-0) played a fairly normal game when it comes to execution.
“You know when you play PV that the first thing you concentrate on is defending Quintin Ratliff,” Maplewood coach Nathan Kish said. “He’s such a great athlete, most likely one of the best in the area, so you automatically know you need to focus on him first to beat PV. We had a regular double team on him with Kevin Jones and Solomon Yoder keying on him. They did a great job, and the other guys all were able to rotate around him while working on their other players, and they did a nice job, too.
“It was a good overall defensive effort, and we also had balanced scoring with 4 guys reaching double figures. When that happens, good things happen for us as well.”
The outcome was established fairly early in the game.
The Rockets jumped out to a 13-6 edge after a period as their defense, squashing Ratliff wherever he went, forced 9 turnovers and limited PV (6-6, 4-3) to just 7 shots from the floor. They weren’t bad shots, but they just weren’t going in.
Often, a team can get started by hitting free throws when the clock is stopped, but PV went 0-8 from the line in the first half and when those misses rolled off, the Rockets were off to the races as they beat the Lakers back down the floor for many layups.
As you may suspect, those shots usually fall in. The Rockets made half of their 24 first half shots in taking a 33-12 lead into the lockerroom, and the lead was still 43-23 heading into the last period.
Chase Thurber nailed a 3-pointer and Aaron Cross hit both ends of a 1 and 1 to suddenly put some life into the Lakers as that cut the lead to 43-28.
After a timeout with 6:36 left to play, Kish got the Rockets’ attention quickly. Less than 2 minutes later, a 9-0 run opened the lead back to 51-28, and there was no further doubt about the outcome.
“We talked at halftime about playing them (Maplewood) more physically, about getting bodies on them and pressuring them more,” Shontz said. “When you’re playing a team as long as they are, you’ve got to keep aware of where they are and stay close or they will run away and hide.”
In hitting 51 percent from the floor for the game, on 24-47 shooting, balance showed itself as Kevin Jones led the Rocket attack with 21 points. Ethan Obradovich added 16, and Nate Spitler and Luke Evan each tallied 11.
PV also had some balance, but with Ratliff seeing several shadows all night, the Lakers weren’t able to get others into the flow as the shots weren’t falling. In hitting just 16 of 48, a 33.3 percent clip, Cory Mercer, Chase Thurber, and Ratliff each tallied just 8 points. Nick Blascak came off the bench early and added 6 markers, and Travis Kiser also scored 6 while doing superb inside work on the backboards against the much taller Rocket lineup by snaring 9 rebounds.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.